Dating is never easy, is it? Going out and meeting strangers and talking to them can be painful, awkward, and downright terrifying. Fortunately, Internet dating sites have helped us cut through the trial-and-error process to find people we have deep, personal connections with — or, at least, who swiped right.

Unfortunately, online dating is also ripe for abuse, exploitation, and scams. If ever you needed a cautionary tale for being careful about who you give your money to, this group of dating site executives who ran multiple scam sites should suffice. Of the 2.7 millions users on the site, only one was a woman. The rest of the “women” the male members were chatting with online were all paid fakes!

A “sakura site” is a scam dating site that employs workers to chat with members to entice them into paying for services or memberships. While it might not seem like too big a deal at first glance, these sites often use photos and profiles ripped from other sites without permission and had raked in around 10 billion yen (about US$80 million with today’s exchange rate) collectively in 2012 according to NHK. We imagine that number has ballooned a bit since then.

With the rise of these sites, legislation has been passed in Japan outlawing the practices, though it hasn’t exactly stopped manipulative jerks from setting up such sakura sites. Fortunately, it looks like the police are actively pursuing sakura site operators, as a group of eight executives were arrested last week for operating multiple scam sites.

▼ Miura Tetsuo, one of the executives arrested

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The scam sites apparently had a total of 2.7 million members — and all but one of them were men! The sites employed male part-time workers to chat with the members, who reportedly paid in 6.6 billion yen (about US$52.5 million) since the sites started in 2004. One user allegedly spent around 13 million yen (around US$100,000).

Obviously, being careful online is always important — like avoiding SourceForge and their bundled adware, not giving your bank information to Nigerian princes, and not spending excessive amounts of money on dating sites. But we also have to admit that it’s easy to be tricked.

So easy, in fact, Japan’s Consumer Affairs Agency made a site warning people to be careful on dating sites. Here’s one ad they produced, mocking dating site ads common on the Internet. The text balloons read: “I’d like to meet you…(I get charged to send you messages?)” with the response “Sorry. I can’t meet you. (I’m just a sakura after all…).”

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It’s important to note that the sites run by the arrested executives weren’t just rip-offs of, but also used messaging apps to spam users with mail from “cute girls” who were looking for someone to talk to. While we all know better than to respond to spam, Line makes it easy to add people as a friend, so it would be easy to trick people to thinking it’s a random acquaintance.


What is the world coming to? We can’t even trust our messaging apps anymore. Well, at least we still have craigslist, right?

Sources: Sanspo, Otakomu
Image: Twitter (@caa_shohishacho)